RSA animation’s take on the failure of Capitalism…

I may have posted this before, but given my recent posts thought it worth posting again. It crams so many ideas and concepts into such a short video. The bottom line however is that something ain’t working!

It was done in the early days of the ‘credit crunch’ in an attempt to grapple with what went wrong- what caused this current economic crisis.

What money can’t buy…

There was a great debate on the radio this morning, involving the author of this book, Michael Sandel;

It is well worth a listen, on this link. In fact I would say more, if you have an interest in stepping aside from the Capitalist rut we find ourselves in it is essential reading! Here is the blurb;

On Start the Week Andrew Marr discusses the relationship between markets and morals with the political philosopher Michael Sandel. In his latest book, What Money Can’t Buy, Sandel questions the dominance of the financial markets in our daily lives, in which everything has a price. But the economist Diane Coyle stands up for her much maligned profession, and points to the many benefits of a market economy. The Russian economist Grigory Yavlinksy argues against viewing the world of money as separate from culture and society: he believes the financial crisis was merely a symptom of a wider moral collapse, and that it is time to examine the way we live.

In many ways this is the debate I have been hoping for. The papers are full of doom about the terrible state of the economy, and our politicians seem to have only one solution- austerity. Cut public spending, cut taxes, create wealth for a few, because greed once again is our only salvation. Those who suffer under this regime will be those who always suffer- the poor, the weak, the sick, the broken.

As well as a lack of alternative political/economic thinking, what is also entirely lacking is a spiritual/moral dimension to the debate. Here is Sandel again;

Capitalism, and Church as supermarket…


In a recent post on his Missional Tribe blog ‘beyond missional’ Frank Viola asked some questions about the effect of the current financial global crisis on Churches, and indeed the Kingdom of God. You can read his post here.

It has been a regular theme of my pondering, and of course, my blogging! See here and here.

It seems that many Church groups and organisations, built as they are on a financial platform that depends on a stable prosperous Western capitalist economy, are beginning to feel the pinch. Church, in this form, is embedded within the dominant economic realities of the day. In it’s organisation at least, it is no different from any other business or institution- it has mortgages, profit and loss, staffing costs and maintenance costs.

Some suggest that the Western world is undergoing a massive shift. Capitalism is reforming, in the face of a crisis as big as it has ever faced before. Some are even asking again whether a system based entirely on expanding the ways in which people can be made to want MORE is sustainable. Particularly as the system also depends on huge inequalities between the consuming countries (in the West) and sweatshops and mines of the South,

Crisis has this way of holding up a mirror through which we can see ourselves from a different perspective. Some Christians are starting to ask again whether this really is the only way to live- and how this reflects our calling as agents of the Kingdom of God.

Perhaps this challenge also falls on our institutions. Has the way that we have done church easily become based on a consumer choice?

Church, becomes a shiny supermarket, at which we buy spirituality- packaged to be portable within our context.prosperity0909

In my country (Scotland) this is less and less relevant, as people simply no longer visit our spiritual supermarkets. For some this is because they have lost their market appeal. I wonder if this is also time for people of faith to stop stacking product, and hoping customers will come to buy. It is time to remember that the church that Jesus loves is built of flesh, and has no steeple…

And to remember again the words of Jesus from Matthew chapter 5, where he calls us to a radically different way of living…

Lest I descend any further into polemic, I am forced to confess my own dependence on this context- my mortgage, my car, my gadgets. And buildings- they have their uses, particularly in our climate!

But I no longer feel the need to put my resources (money time and energy) to sustaining an earthly institution.

Frank Viola quotes Beuchner;

“I also believe that what goes on in them [support groups] is far closer to what Christ meant his Church to be, and what it originally was, than much of what goes on in most churches I know. These groups have no
buildings or official leadership or money. They have no rummage sales, no altar guilds, no every-member canvases. They have no preachers, no choirs, no liturgy, no real estate. They have no creeds. They have no program. They make you wonder if the best thing that could happen to many a church might not be to have its building burned down and to lose all its money. Then all the people would have left is God and each other.”
~ Frederick Buechner, Quoted on pg. 277 of Reimagining Church.

I have found myself part of such as small group as described above, called aoradh. We meet in houses, or village halls, or pubs. We have no paid staff, and things can be pretty chaotic, as we do not have any leaders either. We look for partnerships and create spaces where we can, seeking to be a community who are faced outwards.

This way of being is strangely credit-crunch proof I find!




Not the coughing theatrically into a stained handkerchief kind- but rather the acquisition of stuff.

We took a day out today to do a whole load of consuming. We went Christmas shopping. Michaela has this list that she does on the computer, complete with reference information and tick boxes. I go along as the bag man really. But hey, I get a day out with my wife.

Today we decided to brave a large ‘mall’ at Braehead near Glasgow. I have been there once before, and Michaela reminded me that I swore I would never ever go there again. But as I could not remember having said it, away we went.

What a place.

It has two polished levels of shopping- lines of every shop you would expect to be there, and not a single surprise. Each shop seems to be selling almost identical items, at almost identical prices. There is a ‘food hall’, in which awful food is sold, at very high prices. The place has not originality, no sense of place- as you walk through it, you could be in anywhere in the UK, or even anywhere in Europe.

What is it about these places that makes me so uncomfortable?

I think it comes from a constant feeling that I am being manipulated.

And that awareness of this manipulation does not help me avoid it.

I find myself a participant in a system that would convince me that it is normal to fill my life with all of this stuff- which as soon as I remove from it’s box will be worthless.

A system that depends on me buying ever more stuff, because any measurable change in the numbers of us who buy it, or the frequency by which we buy it, will send ripples through the economic systems of the world.

And should any caution or fear produce a slight reluctance to continue with this in enough of us, then stock market values plummet, financiers get nervous and banks start to tighten their credit lines. After all most of us depend on this thing called credit to buy our stuff…

Then businesses start to find that there is less need for their goods, and so they in turn slow their production, and people lose their jobs. And these people are no longer earning money, and so can buy less stuff.

And the whole thing starts to wind down into… recession!

So I had better spend more in this mall right? It is my duty to the world…

Oh but every year we say the same. Christmas is defined by this round of acquisition every year. Don’t get me wrong, I like to give stuff to my friends and family, but it seems that what I give them is so… useless, for the most part.

Is there no other way?

Well, not for us this year. We have spent the day consuming after all. But there is always next year…

I think these make the point quite well…

(You can see more of this, and some suggestions as to alternatives here.)

Greed, Capitalism and Gordon Gekko…

I had an early start this morning- leaving the house at 7.30 am for a two hour drive. As ever, BBC radio 4 was my faithful companion on the road…

And of course, the morning news was full of the current world financial crisis, brought about by the so-called ‘credit crunch’ and the collapse of an American bank sending shock waves round the world’s stock markets.

We await to see whether the giant insurance firm AIG, responsible for trillions of dollars investments, will topple and fall over also.

We are finding out that when a butterfly flaps in the windows of a wall street office, then not even a post office account in sleepy Argyll is unaffected by the resultant tidal waves of monetary insecurity.

And no-one seems to have any clear idea of what happens next. It is almost as if the animal that we created now has a will of its own, and a malevolent will at that… The radio carried interviews of doom mongers, and other folk seeming to suggest that the worst was over, and we just needed to stop the panic, which was the cause of the whole thing in the first place.

And then there was this other discussion- about the nature of the capitalist system itself, and the greed at the heart of it all.

And we remember again the words uttered by the fictional stock broker Gordon Gekko in the 1987 film ‘Wall Street’ (played brilliantly by Michael Douglas)- Greed is good…

Gekko has become an iconic figure, acting as an archetypal capitalist, but in the process asking questions about the meaning and nature of a culture built on the pursuit of MORE, always MORE. Capitalism, and neo-liberal economics rule the economic roost at the moment, and no-one seems to be able to challenge the ideological truth of ‘trickle-down’ benefits of the creation of wealth, and the release of entrepreneurial aspiration, red in tooth and claw.

This morning, world renowned economists were asked whether they thought that this crisis had been brought about by greed. Both replied that they thought that it had. They thought that some greed was needed- but there had been too much!

They described how a long period (16 years) of economic growth had resulted in complacency and increased risk taking on the part of bankers, stock brokers and financiers. And how ‘rocket scientists’ (a euphemism for people who design ever more complicated financial products in order to seek out profit) have designed complicated financial processed that are not understood by most of the people whose companies are selling them.

Many of the huge profits generated by the banks have been made by selling and buying products with borrowed money. Sometimes, the borrowing ratio to the assets of banks can be 30-40-even 50 to 1. This is fine as long as there is lots of money sloshing around the system, but it only takes a few variables to change- interest rates, commodity and fuel prices, economic slow down, the rise of the Far East, etc etc, and suddenly, apparently impregnable banks are dreadfully exposed and vulnerable.

These are, after all, human institutions, made after our own image.

But we are made in the image of God are we not? And as a Christian, I find myself experiencing dissonance with any system that depends on greed and grasping as the engine of its very survival. Is there really no other way? Do I have to be complicit with this way of living?

I have a mortgage and a car loan from the Bank of Scotland. This bank has lost 40% of it’s share price in the last two days. Who knows what the future is for the BOS, and for my accounts?

But, is this the most pressing economic reality pressing in on our culture? Is Capitalism really working? Or is it serving only the narrow interests of people like me, who experience many of its benefits at the expense of those who do not?

Is the real economic crisis to be found in a world in which things like this are ever present;

So what on earth can be, or should be our response?

I am humbled again. Reminded that my storehouse is not on earth, but in heaven.

And that when I serve the least of these, I serve Jesus.